Silent Night – film review

Dendy Cinemas Canberra
MA15+, (strong action violence, drug use and injury detail
105 Minutes

This film continues something of a tradition in US cinema – violent (or in Hollywood-speak ‘action’) movies at what is supposed to be a season of peace and goodwill. Think for instance of Die Hard and Home Alone. But the title of this film has a double meaning.

Silent Night is director John Woo’s return to Hollywood, In the US, the film has R rating for, among other things, ‘some language’. This is odd, since the film is remarkable for having virtually no dialogue. The main character doesn’t speak at all, and it’s occasional radio chatter, facial expressions and of course action which carry the narrative.

The rest isn’t silence though, as there is much grunting, screeching of tyres and gunfire throughout, with brief periods of respite from the violence.

The film opens with Brian Godlock (John Kinnaman) roaming the streets on a one-man crusade against gangs who, we discover later, were responsible for the death of his young son when the boy was caught in the crossfire of a gang war.

At the end of the opening sequence, Godlock is shot in the neck by a gang leader and loses his voice. When he recovers, he begins a bloody and gruelling quest to punish those responsible, spending the next year getting fit, honing his driving and shooting skills, learning knife combat and of course arming himself to the teeth. He marks 24 December in his calendar as the day to ‘kill them all’.

It may well have been intended, but parts of the film feel like a shoot-em-up video game, with a seemingly endless parade of baddies trying to kill our protagonist.

Some reviewers have described the film as a melodrama – but for me, a melodrama requires a clear distinction between hero and villain. While Godlock’s motive is clear (and is at times rammed mawkishly down our throat), I found it hard to venerate someone who sinks to, and sometimes below, the morality of his tormentor.

If there is a hero, it’s Godlock’s wife Saya (Catalina Sandino Moreno), who, like Marcel Marceau in Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie, has the only speaking part in the film. Like her husband she is clearly mourning the loss of her son, but unlike him, does not see vengeance as the way to deal with her grief.

If you like lots of car chases and shootouts, this film certainly won’t disappoint. But be warned that the violence is graphic, and in parts gratuitous.